The concept of an OODA Loop was very popular around the mid-1970s and periodically resurfaces in business literature. We have found that few commentators understand the real genesis of the OODA Loop, and more importantly - its implications as a powerful diagnostic tool for BtoB marketing. We will provide a new frame of reference for the OODA Loop in your marketing efforts.
The overall concept and the term OODA (which stands for Observation-Orientation-Decision- Action) came about from some studies by an Air Force pilot as to why our pilots were only on par with their opponents during the Vietnam War. The Air Force officer's name was John Boyd and he studied two aspects of aerial combat: one was the performance and responsiveness of the aircraft, and the second one was pilot decision making. The term OODA or Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action actually refers to the pilot decision-making and it was approximately half of his study. The performance and responsiveness of the respective aircraft was a very extensive quantitative work that led to the groundwork for the following generation of advanced aircraft - specifically the F-16 and others.
The part we're going to look at is the OODA Loop itself, which is actually the pilot decision-making. What is not understood by a lot of people who look at the OODA process is it is essentially a key element of pilot training and had been for decades before Lloyd looked at it. His study of the first two parts of it - Observation and Orientation are what we call in aviation situational awareness and it is a key aspect of a pilot training and constantly emphasized in the training curriculum.
The remaining two parts of the OODA Loop that follow are Decision and Action to arrive at a successful outcome
The key to the OODA process is the term Loop which means it is a continual iterative process where you will simultaneously maintain those four frames of reference and can, as needed, reloop back at any given point in time
When individuals study the OODA loop process, what most do is they recognize that they intuitively use some form of it in their decision-making - that is if they have structured decision-making based on the situation encountered, as opposed to just ad-hoc decision-making (that is, a decision making process that lacks a planning element)
The advantage to business-to-business marketers of utilizing the OODA process is twofold: it is a very powerful diagnostic tool because, first - it creates a framework or structure to step through decision making under rapidly changing dynamic conditions
The second aspect is it is a wonderful format to document the not only decision making process but more importantly the assumptions made to arrive at those decisions.
Typically the way you would do that would be to have a list of the four OODA frameworks that you're using (which is observation orientation decision and action) and a brief statement or a paragraph of each as to what needs to be done under each of those frameworks. Then document all your assumptions. This document can then serve to record the evolution of the decision-making process - which is often lost over time.
It is very critical to document assumptions because further down the road when you revisit a decision (that is perhaps not working out as you anticipated it would) often is because the assumptions were only known to the original decision makers who have moved on - so no one has any idea of how that particular decision was arrived at, or what was meant to be accomplished and the constraints.
We're reminded of a story that a structural engineer that had worked for Boeing told us during a flight out to Seattle. As he described it - his last assignment before he left Boeing was that he was on the team that analyzed a cargo door that had blown out of a Boeing 747 on route from Hawaii to New Zealand - it successfully returned to Hawaii.
He made a remark we have never forgotten: He explained that Boeing was concerned if they had miscalculated the stresses around the door frame - or had the ground crew simply failed to latch it properly. That’s a big difference. He further added that it took an unusually long amount of time to perform those calculations because the original team had failed to document their assumptions. You often find this when you go back to revisit decisions (that can be any kind of decision) - such as why did you pick a certain car, why did you pick a certain vacation residence, or whatever decision that requires some research and assumptions. If you don't keep a record of what was important at the time - when you revisit that decision later - often you'll forget those assumptions and the environment at the prior point in time. You'll ask yourself Why did I do this? because your frame of reference by that point has changed.
So how would we use the OODA Loop in business-to-business marketing? We want to address the three key marketing questions:/p>
- Question 1 Exactly how and why do your best customers buy from you
- Question 2 Why do they choose to remain with you
- Question 3 What disruptive events or competitive messaging will cause them to look elsewhere
What is important to remember is that we are considering in essence three OODA Loops here:
- The first OODA Loop is your sales process OODA Loop
- the second OODA loop is your competitors’ sales process OODA Loop
- the third OODA loop is the customer buyers journey OODA Loop
Although Boyd said it was important to get inside your competitors’ OODA Loop that's not the case across all three of these OODA Loops - just the two of your sales process and then your competitions’ sales OODA Loop.
You want to be able to get inside and complete your sales process OODA loop with a customer prior to your competition for sure - but here's a real important point - you want to be in alignment with your customers OODA Loop - you don't want to get inside it.
The reason being is that the customer has to get to their decision at their own pace and if you try to force a premature decision you will encounter resistance. This always typifies what is known as sales objections - they typically come about because you're trying to push the customer through their decision making process too quickly or you have failed to create the proper visualization of a solution and demonstrate that you have enabling capabilities to get to that solution.
You may have heard of the Challenger Sale - which is a concept of reframing the sales dialogue (or “challenging” the buyer.) In a sense - this is an attempt at re-engineering the buying decision - or getting inside the buyer’s OODA Loop. Sales professionals tell us this is a very difficult process to implement - and generally only by highly-experienced senior sales professionals. It should be noted that Gartner sold the Challenger Group a mere 18 months after buying it.
So it's important to remember the role that your OODA Loop plays between your company's sales process and your competitors’ sales processes, and then secondly - the alignment of your sales process with your customer buyer's journey./p>
It should also be remembered that there are essentially four outcomes to any given sales process./p>
The percentage breakdown most often is cited about 25% for each - and occasionally 30% for the no decision factor.
An important aspect of the alignment of your seller sales process through your OODA Loop and the buyer's OODA Loop is to both early on and quickly determine just how much of a probability you have to win the sale - as opposed to the other three losing outcomes.
- First - when the sale is successful,
- Second - the loss to external competition,
- Third - the loss to internal competition,
- Fourth - no decision
Some sales professionals ask early in the sales dialogue if “no decision” is an option - and if it is - they quickly disengage. In other words, they only want to invest their time with prospects who are committed to making a decision - one way or the other.
It's often been said that there are two vendors who win in every sale: the first is the vendor who gets the sale - the second is the vendor who, early on, determines they haven't got a chance of making the sale. They quickly qualify out the prospect as not being an appropriate - one that does not match their Ideal Customer Profile or ICP - one that is ready, able and willing to buy (from them).
The OODA Loop is a powerful diagnostic tool to help focus on key marketing decisions (especially under rapidly changing dynamic conditions), and also provides an audit log of how those decisions are made in case they need to be revisited - or for training purposes (sales enablement). This, coincidentally, keys into another set of concepts that are often used by the military - after action reports and lessons learned. More on that in a later article.
© 2020 Jeffrey Geibel/Geibel Marketing - All Rights Reserved
Jeffrey Geibel, APR, LEED-AP, CFII is the Principal of Geibel Marketing where he provides marketing consulting and competitive success advisories. He supports clients who are established entrepreneurs and SMB executives. In addition to providing customer risk management diagnostics (win-retain-lose), he helps clients find more customers who have the same buyer journey characteristics as their current best customers. These client-success patterns are identified and leveraged into marketing strategies/tactics that will resonate with future customers. He holds several academic degrees along with credentials in public relations, sustainability and aviation (flight instructor). He has won awards for both public relations campaigns and video broadcast programs. With decades of experience he has assisted clients in reaching their goals in hardware and software technology, technology-reseller channel marketing, specialty manufacturing, building products and other technology and professional services-related Industries. He can be reached through his website at www.geibelmarketing.com